Philippine Labor party calls for removal of VAT on oil to reduce prices
One day after the transport protest against the unabated increases in oil prices, the Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) called on the administration of President Benigno Aquino III to remove the VAT on oil products as an immediate measure to reduce prices.
"Noynoying at oil price hikes is unacceptable. Malacanang must assuage the public that despite movements in the international price of oil, the government has the menu of options to mitigate the impact of these price movements," insisted Jong Pacanot, PM-Davao spokesperson.
He added that the government must seriously consider demands for the removal of VAT on oil to mitigate the impact of oil price hikes which is expected to reach the 2008 level of P60/liter. The government collects twelve percent in every liter of oil products.
"It is unfortunate that Energy Department officials get elated with the news that there might be a 'pause' in oil price hikes this week while the fact remains that more than a decade since the oil deregulation law, the regime of higher oil prices has been pestering the lives of the workers and the poor," Pacanot asserted.
The labor party added its voice in calling for the government to take decisive steps in stopping relentless hikes in oil prices. The group also asked the government to adjust the current level of wages by granting labor groups' petitions for wage increase. Last Wednesday, PM and the Philippine Airlines Employees Association picketed the Petron headquarters in Makati City.
"Raising the consumers' capacity to buy is also an option. Thus, a new wage order at this point in time must be issued by the government," Pacanot explained.
The group is open to supporting all means to raise wages from the petition filed by the TUCP at the regional wage boards to a legislated wage hike bill filed in Congress by militant lawmakers.
P-Noy's Edsa report: Usual 'straight path' rhetoric, pro-business bias, palliative reforms
By Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL)
AMID the political circus called the impeachment trial of the Supreme Court's dubious head, the Edsa People Power 1 uprising's 26th anniversary was again marked by President Aquino by pouring out his habitual "straight path" rhetoric, his anticipated bias especially for big business, and his naïve trust in superficial social reforms.
This was the scathing remark of the Alliance of Progressive Labor on Aquino's speech - as well as a critical assessment of his major policies - during the festivities last Feb. 25 at the People Power Monument along the historic Edsa, which was attended by a few thousand people led by top government and security officials.
While correctly admitting that the ousting of the Marcos dictatorship by the 1986 "revolution" has failed to free the vast majority of citizens "from hunger, poverty, injustice, and lack of opportunities to succeed," Aquino continues to adhere to neoliberal economic programs that have worsened global inequality, the APL said.
Stressing the need to fast-track reforms, Aquino, however, contradicted himself when he commented in his speech that "if the majority of Filipinos do not feel any change, what good is democracy (that was supposedly restored by Edsa 1)?"
The APL clarified that "in the first place, there is no genuine democracy if the nation's wealth remains at the hands of a very few superrich, who also wield effective political power in our society."
'Dismantling the barricades of poverty' (!)
Aquino has even the gall to proclaim that his "government is dismantling the barricades of poverty" - "binabaklas ng inyong pamahalaan ang mga barikada ng kahirapan" - through the Conditional Cash Transfer program, which is basically an expensive dole-out package first implemented in the country in 2008 by his predecessor, the widely despised Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the APL retorted.
Aquino reported that last year an additional 45,000 poor households were added to the CCT's original target of 2.3 million families from 78 cities, 968 municipalities and 80 provinces in the country. He vowed that these "lifelines" will be provided to at least 3 million impoverished families "before the end of 2012."
Under the CCT or also called the "Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps)," each indigent family identified by the government will be given P1,400 cash at the most a month - P500 for "health and nutrition grant" and P100 for each child (14 years old and below, and a maximum of three every family) for "education grant" - for five years if the beneficiaries will comply with the requirements like sending the children to school and the mothers to undergo regular prenatal and postnatal care.
Admittedly, even the gesture of helping the poor is commendable enough; but the APL emphasized that the government should have focused its plans and resources on long-term and more permanent solutions to poverty like protecting and strengthening the local industries and agriculture, ensuring decent and secured jobs for all, expanding the state's welfare services for the public, and seriously promoting social justice.
Reliable feedback mechanism, including on whether the program is not fostering dole-out mentality, as well as how to confirm that the intended beneficiaries (not some crooks and politicians) are really receiving the money and they are using it for the intended purposes are not the only problems facing the currently P10-billion CCT program, the APL revealed.
"It's mind-boggling to think how to squeeze every month P300 for the schooling of three children even in public schools, and P500 for a family's 'health and nutrition' needs. And there's still much to be desired in the country's prenatal and postnatal care. Besides, the sheer number of Philippine poor and the enormous amount required to provide each family even a measly P1,400 monthly for five years is staggering," the APL wondered.
Even the latest (and obviously conservative) government data, the 2009 Family Income and Expenditures Survey (FIES), show that while poverty incidence allegedly declined to 26.49 percent in that year from 35.15 percent in 1988, the ranks of the poor in the same period have still swelled to 23.9 million from 21.3 million.
Income disparity in the country has barely changed since Edsa 1 as the "top 1 percent of families (185,000) have an income equal to the income of the bottom (or poorest) 30 percent (5.5 million)," disclosed a noted ex-government official. He concluded that "since studies show that there is very little of a middle class to speak of, this means that most of the 99 percent are also poor."
Business confidence, business confidant
Aquino told his audience that under his administration, the country registered "all-time highs in our stock index 16 times."
And, although trying to be humble, Aquino actually boasted that less than two years after taking office, the country is now enjoying "a refreshing new confidence from the global community," that is, from ratings agencies closely linked to the international Big Business.
He specifically cited Standard & Poors, Moody's, and Fitch, the world's top three credit ratings agencies (the first two are US-based, and the last is headquartered in Paris), as well as Japanese credit ratings companies.
The positive marks the Philippines had garnered were due to "the reforms ... in the commerce and trade sector" instituted by his administration, Aquino claimed. He underscored this "achievement" by asserting that: "This is what we call reform. This is what we call results."
Validating this "business confidence," Aquino rattled off investment statistics attained in the special economic enclaves run by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority.
Investments in PEZA last year hit P288.3 billion, "the highest in history," the President enthusiastically testified, adding that since assuming the presidency in June 2010, investments in PEZA reached to P439 billion.
This amount and this early, Aquino announced, already accounts for an astounding 22 percent of the P2.003 trillion total investments put in PEZA in the past 16 years.
Adding to the "list of good news," Aquino proudly mentioned a study conducted by the Japan External Trade Organization apparently designating the Philippines as "the No. 1 ideal destination of businessmen in Asia, whether in the manufacturing or the services sector."
This feat is due to the "high quality of work, the skilled and talented workforce, and the low cost of doing business in our country," Aquino said, quoting the JETRO survey.
Undoubtedly, Filipino workers are among the best not only in Asia but in the world; but, the APL lamented, they are also one of the most exploited highlighted by the worsening job insecurity in the country.
Contractualization is now very rampant, for example, in the burgeoning services sector which is highly coveted by foreign investors, especially in the business process outsourcing or BPO industry, led by the call centers, the APL said.
This rampant non-regular work - hence, in general, with cheaper wages and limited benefits, and trade unions are not allowed - is of course a huge come-on also for foreign investors in many manufacturing firms in the sprawling special economic zones managed by PEZA.
"Thus, both the PEZA report of Aquino and the JETRO survey are not at all surprising; they are expected," the APL said, adding that "it is precisely because of the official or unofficial state policy of institutionalizing jobs that are cheap, non-unionized and contractual or without security of tenure which caused the outpouring of the so-called 'business confidence.'"
The APL further pointed out that despite the purported rise in foreign investments and even the claim that the country's economy is growing, the fruits of this "progress" have failed to benefit the vast majority of the masses.
Prove beyond the rhetoric
Thus, the APL reminded Aquino to go beyond his "daang matuwid" slogan and ensure that concrete steps are made to really address the short-term and long-term needs and aspirations of the majority.
"No amount of feel good statements to describe his administration from the Arroyo regime - like 'We call this dedication. We call this compassion. We call this the straight and righteous path' - can truly uplift the lot of the masses unless he go beyond the realm of the rhetoric," the APL noted.
"More Unionists were Killed": Alliance of Progressive Labor testifies in Washington Hearing
By Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL)
Washington, DC — On the second day of the 2011 Annual Review of Country Practices conducted by the US Trade Representative for the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), the Secretary-General of the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), refuted claims of the Philippine government representatives that it has done a lot to resolve the trade union killings.
Josua Mata, testifying early this morning (11:00 AM January 25, EST), stated that "Truth is, two years after the visit of the ILO High Level Mission, none of the trade union killings have received justice. Of the 39 cases filed before the ILO, only 3 are currently on trial, and all of them involve only the hired guns, not the real masterminds who are most likely back home right now sitting in their comfortable corporate offices! In the meantime, according to the ITUC Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights, 6 trade unionists have been killed from 2010 to 2011. All these have happened under the current administration of President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino."
The Government of the Philippines (GPH) delegation to Washington, DC included Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, Labor Undersecretary Rebecca Chato, and Department of Justice (DOJ) Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III.
"Before we say that the new guidelines with PNP and AFP are working, show us the proof that PNP and AFP violations are no longer happening, or at least are actually going down," testified Mata. He recommended that clear benchmarks be set by the government to say that the reforms made are actually working. The hearing took up the Philippine case filed by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) in view of the trade union killings.
Mata also supported assertions by PALEA's President Gerry Rivera on the first day about the rampant use and abuse of contractual labor in the country, which prevents workers' from actually enjoying their rights, including their right to join unions. He cited two cases, that of Philippine Airlines and of Hanjin Shipping. "Of the 21,000 workers (Hanjin) now employs, all of them are contractual employees who are hired by 16 subcontractors, (and) many of these companies, have interlocking directorates with the same officials of Hanjin," testified Mata.
APL demanded for an independent investigating body that can really go after the military and the police who are involved in TU violations. "For a long time, DOJ didn't bother to do anything about it until this GSP review hearing came," added Mata in reply to panel questions.
The panel, chaired by the USTR, included representatives from the US Department of Labor, Treasury and Agriculture. The GSP is a development tool used by the US to provide duty-free access to certain products of developing countries that are eligible for this program. The GSP law enumerates the factors for eligibility, which includes that a country "has taken or is taking steps to afford to workers in that country internationally recognized worker rights."
P-Noy's pro-labor pitch tagged as "Noy-ngaling" by labor party
President Benigno Aquino III got another jab from militant groups after his speech at the Anvil Business Club last Friday about protecting workers interests. The Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) slammed as a brazen lie President Aqunio's declaration to business leaders that the workers welfare is paramount.
"President Aquino is a Noy-ngaling. There is a huge disconnect between his words and deeds regarding workers' interests. If PNoy is not a Noy-ngaling then how come 2,400 Philippine Airlines (PAL) employees have been sacrificed by the Office of the President and the Labor Department on the altar of contractualization," declared Renato Magtubo, PM chair.
PM insisted that Aquino had his litmus test with the labor dispute at PAL but failed miserably. "PNoy's new found love for workers is a casual affair no different from his usual relationships. PNoy's alleged love for workers will not last five months like the widespread contractual contracts that afflict laborers everywhere," Magtubo added.
Nonetheless PM challenged Aquino to order the National Wages and Productivity Commission to act on the wage petitions, and certify the bills on legislated wage and security of tenure at Congress.
For the coming Labor Day celebrations, PM and allied groups such as the Philippine Airlines Employees Association are launching a campaign for labor justice they have dubbed "Love your workers" in a jab at the "Love your PAL" advertising campaign of the national flag carrier.
"Workers demand reforms beyond the prosecution of Gloria and the impeachment of Corona. The graft ridden National Labor Relations Commission, the Department of Labor and Employment and the National Mediation and Conciliation Board must be cleansed. The policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization that have led to thousands of closures and layoffs, and collapse of industry and agriculture must be rolled back," Magtubo explained.
Workers "die-in" at EDSA then march to Energy Department
Some 200 workers from the militant Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) rallied today in front of the Department of Energy office in Taguig. The protest is part of the groups' campaign against spiraling oil prices and their demand for the end of oil deregulation and for state control of oil prices.
The socialist labor center also condemned the Department of Energy (DOE) for acting as "envoy of the oil oligarchs". BMP spokesperson Romy Castillo said, "The department displays uncanny energy and enthusiasm when it warns the public against higher local oil prices every time the price of oil spikes in the world market. Their announcements not only condition the minds of the public to accept an oil price hike".
He added, "More so, it promotes the fallacy that local oil prices automatically correspond to world market prices. Oil companies in the country have a buffer supply for two months. They also overprice their commodities."
The labor leader pointed out that the price of crude oil in the world market decreased by 17.25%, from $145 per barrel at the height of the 2008 oil crisis to its present level of $120 (Dubai benchmark). During the same period, there was also a decrease in local oil prices but not in proportion to its drop in the global market. Local gasoline and diesel prices decreased by 1.61% and 4.12% respectively, from P59.46/liter to P58.50 (for gasoline) and from P52.44 to P50.28 (for diesel).
If local oil prices truly follow the global market, as asserted by the Energy Department, the BMP concluded, "Local oil prices should have dropped higher than the global decrease of 17.25%. Because the peso-dollar exchange rate is at P42.40:$1, as compared to P44.28:$1 in 2008".
The labor group also chided the Independent Review Committee set-up by the energy department to review the financial statements of the oil firms. Castillo averred, "The IRC is a toothless tiger, being a recommendatory body. There is also an internal arrangement between the IRC and the department on the non-disclosure to the public of the oil firms' book of accounts. The IRC was formed to conjure the illusion of transparency as the people's clamor against overpriced oil prices intensify".
Before the protest in Taguig, the workers staged a "die-in" at EDSA Guadalupe to highlight the urgency of their demands for government control of oil prices, the removal of VAT on oil, the buy-back of Petron and Energy Development Corporation and the scrapping of the oil deregulation law. The activity stopped traffic for a few minutes as protesters lay down along the country's busiest thoroughfare.
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